Colonisation, The Great City of Tenochtitlan

Colonisation, The Great City of TenochtitlanColonisation, The Great City of Tenochtitlan

Colonisation, The Great City of Tenochtitlan/ detail from the mural, Pre-Hispanic and Colonial Mexico, 1945-52 by Diego Rivera.

Diego Rivera completed a huge series of works titled Pre-Hispanic and Colonial Mexico for the National Palace of Mexico between the years of 1945-52. It was a time of mass upheaval right across the world and was a suitable moment to reflect on the past.

The mural in front of us here was titled Colonisation, The Great City of Tenochtitlan, and was just one section of a much larger project which took seven years in total from start to finish. We cannot be entirely sure about where exactly this piece fitted into the overall timeline for completing the work, and so it is given the wide date that it is. Most likely, the artist would have completed one mural at a time, with each one taking several months before he then moved onto the next, though at the very start of the project there would have been a plan in place to ensure a good level of consistency across the overall series. Most of the artist's famous paintings were series of murals such as this, and as Rivera's reputation grew, he started to receive commissions such as this fairly regularly. His clients tended to be wealthy businessmen plus a good number of public institutions across Mexico. These murals helped him to become known as one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time.

 Rivera was no supporter of colonialists, and was highly displeased by the treatment afforded the people of Mexico in previous centuries. Besides Colonisation, The Great City of Tenochtitlan, he would re-visit this topic many times, always with a specific focus on his own country and its past. This mural is huge and very busy, with combinations of figures and architecture covering the entire area, with no room for more quiet areas. Viewers of these murals will be able to stand and look for quite some time, spotting new details each time. He incorporated friends and family into some of the murals, as well as other famous names from the past. He must have enjoyed putting these items together, across the period of several years which perhaps helped to distract him from the awful events happening within the world at the time.

 The Palacio Nacional features Baroque architecture from around the 16th century and offers a huge display area in which some of these large murals can comfortably be handled. Rivera's work is given centre stage, with his murals being designed around the architecture itself, just as Italian Renaissance artists would do back in the 15th and 16th century. Rivera himself would have loved to leave such an impressive legacy as this, seeing his art dominating some of the most significant venues in the capital city of Mexico. Most still remain there today and strong efforts have gone into protecting them for the long term, as well as banning the export of any particularly important art to ensure it remains within the country. Rivera studied artists such as Giotto whilst in Europe and so understood how art could last for centuries, and combined much of what he learnt abroad with the Mexican content that inspired him so much.